When someone walks into the GDS High School, the first location that catches the eye is the Forum. Placed directly adjacent to the front desk, the Forum is the main hub of activity at GDS, crucial for travelling around the school or even socializing with fellow students. However, every entry, or exit, to the center of the Forum is comprised of stairs. For an individual with a physical disability, navigating the forum or any other section of the school is not only difficult but almost downright impossible.
GDS is known for its focus on social justice, but one identifier that is hardly discussed among students and faculty is ability. While topics such as race, gender or sexuality are discussed daily, ability has received the short end of the stick. Over the duration of the 2018-2019 school year, only one Open Space conversation has been focused on the topic of ability, but since then no changes have been enacted, and it seems as if the session has merely been forgotten. Just like racism or sexism, ableism is a looming problem in society, and if GDS wants to maintain its image as a bubble for progressive thinking, it must make changes to accommodate all individuals with different disabilities, and not just the select few it can now.
As a private institution, GDS is not legally mandated to accommodate all students, but making GDS inaccessible to a large portion of potential students based solely upon a single identifier, ability, is wrong and goes directly against the message GDS is trying to send. GDS was founded by those who could not join other schools because of their religion or race, so why should we repeat the errors of the past? Children with disabilities deserve every opportunity given to children without disabilities, and in its current state, GDS cannot accommodate the majority of children with disabilities. As an academically rigorous school, some educational programs would need to be adjusted to accommodate students with cognitive or intellectual disabilities, and if GDS truly holds itself to a higher standard, then GDS would be more progressive in its approach to accessibility.
The safe environment that students at GDS have become accustomed to should not be barred to prospective students based on a single identifier. The fact that GDS is not mandated to accept those with disabilities should not be used as an excuse, but as a sign to show that even though GDS is not forced to accommodate all students, it will. If GDS wants to remain as a bubble separate from society, it cannot pick and choose its identifiers, leaving entire groups of people out of the picture. Ability may not play a large role in identity politics today, and it certainly does not headline the news each night, but it is just as important as any other identifier GDS spends years trying to dissect, and it needs to be treated as such.
Jonah Sachs ’21